The Battle of Oakland and the Occupy Movement

The Battle of Oakland and the Occupy Movement: 25-27 October, 2011

The General Assembly of the Oakland Commune at Oscar Grant Plaza, 26th October

This is an account by someone among the 99% who was at the Oakland Commune, in Oscar Grant Plaza, on Ohlone Land, when on October 25, around 5 am, hundreds from OPD and associated police departments raided the Occupy Oakland camp and arrested almost 100 people who were peacefully assembled. The police used tear gas and rubber bullets, trashed everything in Oscar Grant Plaza, and cordoned off several blocks around the Plaza. This lasted for about 30 minutes. At that point, about 100 other people who were outside the Plaza reconvened on 14th and Franklin to demand the police to release those being arrested and the return to the Plaza. Policemen in motorcycles drove into the crowd to force their dispersal down the street. The people then began marching around downtown and attempting to barricade the streets behind them from the police who attempted to surround them. As this game of cat-and-mouse continued, at least two columns of 50 police officers each marched in full riot gear to Snow Park, which was also surrounded and cordoned off by police motorcycles, cars and additional police in riot gear. The police proceeded to arrest everyone at Snow Park even though it was already after 6am and the occupants had only been ordered to leave the parks between 10pm and 6am according to the Oakland’s mayor’s “eviction notice”.

During the rest of the day, hundreds went to the jails in Dublin and on 6th and Washington in Oakland to demand the release of those arrested, and thousands decided to reconvene at the Oakland Public Library downtown at 4pm. There was a rally and some scuffles with the police, until at 7:30 people marched back towards Oscar Grant Plaza but were stopped by the police at 14th and Broadway. Police from throughout California had blocked all six approaches and entrances to the park. The police also stationed cars and motorcycles at all the freeway entrances, remembering the time people blocked the Interstate 80 in Oakland during rush hour in a state-wide strike and day of action in defense of public education. This time, the police were occupying Oscar Grant Plaza while we occupied the streets. What happened then has gone viral: the police brutally attack the people with rubber bullets, batons, tear gas and concussion grenades on at least five major salvos over the next four hours. Some people were arrested and many were hurt, even critically, such as the Marine Scott Olsen, who suffered a fractured skull from a projectile police shot at his face, followed by concussion grenades thrown at the people who rushed to rescue Scott Olsen while he lay on the ground before the police line unconscious. The people did not abandon the streets after this brutality, and just like in Scott Olsen’s case, continued to rescue others who were gassed, shot at or attacked with concussion grenades. There was little or no relation against the police, not even against police cars suspiciously abandoned around the area, and many people suspect the police or federal agents infiltrated among the crowd may have thrown a glass bottle towards the police and instigated violence against the peacefully assembled people.

On the morning of the 26th, various groups rallied at the jails in support of those arrested and at the hospital in vigil for Scott Olsen. Thousands organized for a general assembly on Oscar Grant Plaza at 6pm. By that time, the police had withdrawn from the emptied out plaza, leaving the entire grassed area where the tents of the Oakland Commune had been pitched barricaded by chain-link fences. We began the General Assembly and hundreds continued to arrive, so people dismantled the fence and carried on. As Scott F put it, “More than a thousand people, truly of all ages and walks of life, conducted a well organized and efficient public meeting in the town square… I don’t think I have ever seen a more literal embodiment of the First Amendment than last night’s General Assembly.” After four hours of meeting, the General Assembly decided by consensus to call for a GENERAL STRIKE in Oakland on November 2nd!

Below is the proposal passed by the General Assembly on Wednesday October 26, 2011 in reclaimed Oscar Grant Plaza. 1607 people voted. 1484 voted in favor of the resolution, 77 abstained and 46 voted against it, passing the proposal at 96.9%. The General Assembly operates on a modified consensus process that passes proposals with 90% in favor and with abstaining votes removed from the final count.

PROPOSAL:

We as fellow occupiers of Oscar Grant Plaza propose that on Wednesday November 2, 2011, we liberate Oakland and shut down the 1%.

We propose a city wide general strike and we propose we invite all students to walk out of school. Instead of workers going to work and students going to school, the people will converge on downtown Oakland to shut down the city.

All banks and corporations should close down for the day or we will march on them.

While we are calling for a general strike, we are also calling for much more. People who organize out of their neighborhoods, schools, community organizations, affinity groups, workplaces and families are encouraged to self organize in a way that allows them to participate in shutting down the city in whatever manner they are comfortable with and capable of.

The whole world is watching Oakland. Let’s show them what is possible.”

*

While the General Assembly was taking place in Oakland, we kept receiving updates from those at Occupy San Francisco requesting support because they had good reason to believe that a police raid was imminent, but the police aborted the raid on Occupy San Francisco after police were already converging nearby in riot gear.

Why did the police abort the raid on Occupy San Francisco?

The police abandoned their plans to raid Occupy San Francisco because thousands heeded the call for support from the occupiers at “Justin Herman” Plaza, and they had just witnessed how the brutal crackdown in Oakland only incensed even more people to reoccupy Oscar Grant Plaza and escalate the Occupy Movement to a demand for a community wide general strike. The police knew that they did not have the power to raid another Occupation in the Bay Area with the people mobilized and on the offensive everywhere.

This victory is evident even from the statements of the SFPD to SFGate, under the pretense that the preparations for the raid were “just in case” people from the East Bay went to San Francisco:

“Officer Carlos Manfredi, a police spokesman, said the department was worried that decamped protesters from Occupy Oakland would flood into San Francisco late Wednesday. About 1,000 Occupy Oakland demonstrators did try to board BART around 11 p.m., only to find that the transit agency had locked the two main downtown stations. The Embarcadero Station was also shut. ‘In light of what happened in Oakland, we wanted to be prepared,’ Manfredi said. ‘In preparation, we made use of the time by assembling all of our officers to be ready in the event there would be any kind of incident.’”

But the power of the people to make the police back off is actually glossed over by KTVU, SFGate and so many other media portrayals of the event. Instead, during the early hours of October 27th, the focus shifted strongly towards Jane Kim, John Avalos, David Campos, Eric Mar and David Chiu from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and other city and state officials like state senator Leland Yee who went to the “Justin Herman” Plaza in support of the Occupy Movement.

It is crucial to understand both the significance and the perils of these statements made by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and the response of the Occupy Movement.

First, the perils. People at Occupy San Francisco accepted the presence and the communication with these elected officials, thanking them for their support and dialogue, even while pressing them on immediate needs of the homeless people in San Francisco, criticizing their support for tax-breaks for wealthy corporations (in this case, Twitter), and occasionally shouting clearly “we do not trust you!” And indeed people are correct to be hesitant: John Avalos and Leland Yee are both campaigning for mayor of San Francisco, and this adds more than a grain of salt to their words. Moreover, the massive outcry against Jean Quan, who pretends to the authority of mayor of the City of Oakland, is making other elected officials somewhat tremble before the Occupy Movement in an attempt to cover their own asses. After all, what Jean Quan supported during campaigns is exactly what she attacked this week, ceding control of the city to martial law by the police.

This irony must be taken seriously. Jean Quan entered into politics during the 60’s struggling against police brutality, and was popularly elected in Oakland after she personally participated in protests and demonstrations alongside the same people brutalized by police in Oakland on the 25th. Finally, she expressed support for the Occupy Oakland movement when it was first installed, but abandoned the movement to a crackdown by a police state in her absence. Calling it betrayal, Keith Olberman calls for Jean Quan to dismiss the acting chief of OPD and guarantee the continued occupation of Oscar Grant plaza, or resign. Jean Quan now claims she was not in charge of the operation, and after media reports contradicted the official OPD statement that rubber bullets and concussion grenades were not fired, the acting chief of OPD blamed other police departments involved. If neither the mayor nor the chief of OPD was in charge of the city government, who was? It should come as no surprise that the people at the Oakland Commune refused to allow government officials to speak at our General Assembly, and while it is very important and in many ways good that the people of San Francisco have initiated dialogue with their own city officials, they ought to be extremely careful to avoid cooptation as well as betrayals.

Not only the risk but also the positive significance of the dialogue between the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and Occupy San Francisco is not yet widely understood. Supervisor Kim said, “We want to thank you for coming in such great numbers tonight” and added that the five supervisors were at the camp “because we strongly believe in the first amendment rights of everyone here.” Given that public health concerns were among the three main issues with which the City of Oakland and others have justified police crackdowns on Occupations throughout the country, it is momentous that Supervisor Kim also said “We feel confident that we can work with you to develop a protocol that balances our first amendment rights and public health concerns”, explaining that we do not need the police for that.

The Occupy Movement, which was criticized for not having clearly articulated demands, begins to articulate demands organically through the process of struggle itself. Simultaneously assuring that the municipal government can and should attend the public health needs of the people of San Francisco and explicitly excluding the police from anything related to this issue, the dialogue between Occupy San Francisco and the Board of Supervisors can cultivate an important space for public debate from which two demands are already materializing: the provision of free and quality healthcare for all and the need to deactivate the police from infringing against the right to peaceful assembly.

The general strike called in Oakland can also become a stage on which to demand the resignation of the acting chief of OPD and/or mayor Jean Quan, but individuals holding office have never been the focus of the movement cultivating the Oakland Commune. The ultimate goal of the occupation in Oakland is not likely to be expressed as the replacement of officeholders, but rather as the replacement of the city government and the police force by the democratic organization of the Oakland Commune through general assemblies. Such a goal will certainly not be easy to achieve, but it continues to materialize through each day of struggle.

In the meantime, the example of Occupy San Francisco may come in more handy in several other cities across the country: after all, the police raid in Oakland was not the only one that took place during these days. Atlanta, Eureka and several other Occupations were also raided, people were arrested and harassed, and peaceful assemblies were disrupted in several other places around the country at virtually the same time. In fact, Greg Mitchell blogging for The Nation remarked on “Much speculation and alleged info last night out of California on DHS (Homeland Security) behind the crackdowns this week at camps across country.  This would explain why mayors, such as in Oakland, appear weak and unable to halt attacks.” As mentioned above, neither the mayor of Oakland nor the chief of OPD were in control during the raid and attack on Occupy Oakland, but the California Highway Patrol and ten other police departments were involved in the crackdown, so coordination at least at the level of the State of California must have taken place. Whether or not the Department of Homeland Security was also coordinating or encouraging the widespread crackdowns on the Occupy Movement remains uncertain, but it would not be surprising if it were the case. This would mean that the action taken by the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco sets the precedent for a remarkable new development: the confrontation between Federal agencies and local governments in opposition or support for the Occupy Movement.

Mayors, city officials and even Sheriffs have sometimes stood as the last line of defense where community members were able to rally support for radical solutions to the problems we are currently facing. The financial system might be failing while banks continue to foreclose homes, but community organizations protecting their neighbors have cultivated support from Sheriffs in Arizona, Michigan, Illinois and elsewhere who have refused to enforce evictions so that families can continue to live in their own homes flouting the foreclosure. We might be reaching a point now where mayors and city officials will have to clearly decide on which side of the barricades they stand: with the Occupy Movement cultivating concrete solutions to the problems we are facing in our communities because of the crimes and exploitation of corporations and the wealthy; or facing the demand for their resignation.

Presentation by Omali Yeshitela to the caucus of people of color at Occupy Oakland

This is a video of a 30 minute presentation by Omali Yeshitela to the caucus of people of color at Occupy Oakland, which took place early during the occupation. I think the last 5 or 7 minutes are the most interesting, specifically the way Omali talked about the need for people of color to bring their own rules about organization to the movement (particularly regarding the higher consequences for people of color from the criminal justice system, in contrast with white, middle class, suburban folks, including an explicit reference to anarchists whose tactics threaten to invite unnecessary police repression – and the way in which a young black man responded, saying Omali’s argument was unfair and inaccurate, followed by the intervention by the moderator of the caucus to restrict this conversation to members of the caucus.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v0yySzgKREA&feature=related

Tagged , ,

Decolonization by Occupy Oakland

Here is a virtual tour of the Oakland Commune, at Oscar Grant Plaza, on Ohlone Land.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kHezQmVkuLs

The Oakland Commune is growing so much that it is now also occupying another park nearby towards the lake. Both this second park as well as the lake have yet to have their names decolonized, as we have already decolonized the Oakland Commune (former “City of Oakland”), which is centered around the daily, 99%-consensus, general assembly that takes place at Oscar Grant Plaza (former “Frank Ogawa Plaza”), on Ohlone Land (a share of what’s formerly and still occupied “United States of America”). Our names and our languages make us who we are in communication/coexistence with life around us, so we ought not to dismiss the importance of actually changing our lived and living languages. But changing words alone would not suffice, nor would speaking and writing about decolonization without actively participating in the decolonization process, taking action in the brutally physical decolonization of our public spaces, our streets, our neighborhoods, our places of work, our places of living, our places of playing.

How is such decolonizing action to be taken?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T0fq8ofq55I

People in their hundreds marched from Oscar Grant Plaza on October 22, 2011, occupying the streets for more than three hours around the lake next to the Oakland Commune. This march accomplished several things: it gave a good and healthy stroll to the people of the Oakland Commune on a beautiful and sunny Saturday, alongside and mingling with several other people who make up the same community, even if they can’t or don’t sleep at Oscar Grant Plaza, enjoying seeing each other, catching up, venting, ranting, raving, shouting, chanting, singing, dancing, playing, joking, sharing water and popsicles, crashing a branch of Chase to tell them our feelings, surrounding the folks locked-in at Wells Fargo, and of course, giving a loud shout-out to all our friends across the continent: Shut down Wall Street!!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lAkqjvmSQH8

The gathering and march are necessary for energy, attention, communication, and solidarity between the people sleeping out in public spaces and people in their homes. It is also necessary to attempt to use the media to send messages to people beyond our communities. Since it seems that “shut down Wall Street” isn’t clear enough for the numbed audience of corporate media, who accuse that our movement “doesn’t seem to have any coherent demands”, we can walk slowly around town and point out not only where the problems are (banks, government buildings, etc) but also where the solutions are: Shut down OPD, not the Public Library!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Vw1xcJgNZw

Decolonization requires removing the police, who are the violent executioners of colonization, from our communities.

Decolonization requires the cultivation of our knowledges, our histories and stories, our places of learning, our places in common, our places of caring and sharing.

And yet decolonization requires that we decolonize ourselves. We are not merely asking someone who pretends to authority to change some policy about books or batons. Occupying Oscar Grant Plaza on Ohlone land and collectively building the Oakland Commune, cultivating democracy through the general assembly, we are already decolonizing our community and ourselves. When the pretenders to authority at City Hall issued an “eviction notice” to our movement because of “deteriorating camp conditions, physical damage, and health and safety code violations”, the contrast between the colonized and decolonization became glaringly apparent: we ignored their pretended authority to “evict us” and pointed out that “the rats, drug crimes, and violence in the area of 14th Street and Broadway went unchecked before we arrived.” ( http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/10/21/BA6S1LKNVB.DTL&tsp=1 ) The colonized view the encampment at Oscar Grant Plaza as a source of rats, drugs and violence because they never bothered to pay attention to what goes on around the corner of 14th and Broadway; the growing numbers of people criminally deprived of a roof and unjustly laid off work have been suffering these rats, drugs and violence for a long time. Now that we are organizing ourselves through the general assembly, decolonizing ourselves in fact, the plaza is cleaned up daily, and drug abusers and violent people are asked to leave the common space. And we still have much to do and much more that can be done!

So what is to be done?

We must continue to improve our organization, including more and more people and addressing immediately the basic needs of those who are suffering the most in our communities. We must continue to improve our self-discipline, maintaining peace among ourselves and curbing any sort of abuse. We must continue to improve our democracy, cultivating consensus and taking action through our general assemblies. We must continue to improve our strategy, extending and expanding  from our occupations of public spaces to the occupation and recreation of our spaces of work and our spaces of living. We must continue to improve our tactics, including but not limited to art, boycott, cacerolazo, debt-holiday and direct action, e-activism, fights, guerrilla, hacking, insurrection, jamming, kindness, living in harmony with the rest of life on earth, marches, nonviolent resistance, occupations, picketing, questioning authority, riots, strikes, tax-holidays, un-arresting, walk-outs, youth leadership and zAp!

Decolonization does not proceed by making demands of colonizers, but in decolonizing ourselves we are organically determining the contours of the world in which we remake ourselves. We organize free meals and shelter for anyone in our community in need, cultivating healthy food and decent housing as a right for everyone. We organize free public education for everyone in our community, sustaining a place of learning and library at the heart of Oakland Commune and amplifying the struggles of students, teachers and academic workers everywhere. We organize ourselves communally, integrating everyone who decides to be included in our community and deconstructing notions of separation by gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, etc. We organize ourselves democratically, cultivating the practice of making our own decisions about our way of life collectively and sidestepping the clientelism and apathy that result from rule by a bureaucracy and a kleptocracy through the sham of representation. We organize ourselves in association, neither paying nor receiving wages for the work we do for the community, neither charging interest nor rent from ourselves. And we organize ourselves collectively for the abolition of those institutions that exploit the people and our environment, the banks and corporations taking profit from our work and taking interest and rent from our life in our common land, and that bureaucracy that exploits us through taxation and oppresses us through police brutality and other peoples through military and economic imperialism. We organize ourselves for the decolonization of ourselves and our world, justice for all the peoples who have suffered and continue to suffer genocide, reparations for all the peoples who have suffered and continue to suffer slavery, restoration of a healthy and sustainable metabolism between ourselves and the agro-ecosystems in which we live, and the peace and plenty which the bounty of the earth can provide to all of us – if only the many of us who lack so much expropriate the few colonizers who are consuming and wasting everything in the planet for their own private benefit. Some among them might succeed in decolonizing themselves and join us, but most remain too entrenched in their hateful pride. In decolonizing ourselves and depriving them of the power, wealth and authority to which they pretend, we eliminate the colonizers and reach towards the completion of decolonization of our world

Tagged , , ,

An Anarchist Opinion of Occupy Denver

      After reading several reports on how anarchists are being treated in many of the occupy movements I feel that I should share my experience in Denver. Although I consider myself an anarchist, I am not affiliated with any of the local anarchist groups and have been attending Occupy Denver as an individual. I decided to enter this particular situation in Denver as an observer/listener and therefore have not been singled out or labeled nearly as much as many other people.

        Problems concerning anarchist involvement arose starting at the first general assembly hosted by Occupy Denver. Although I did not attend, I have listened to the audio and spoken to members on both sides who were there. It appears that a mix of people gathered; a mix of long-term activists and newbies. The first thing agreed to at the meeting was a commitment to nonviolence. No one seemed to have a problem with that. After that discussion the topic of of – gasp – a diversity of tactics threw the newbies into disarray. It was simply mentioned that a diversity of tactics be respected; or at the least, talked about. Being a student of Gandhi and King, it troubled me that these newbies were using these great people as a shield of pacifism, locking out any notion towards the term diversity of tactics (even though both Gandhi and King supported such). In the end, there were threats to DOX anyone speaking about other forms of action and many of the groups began to feel uncomfortable within this new movement. This caused a major split in the group. I showed up a few days later. Although I was not on board or in agreement with the main goals being stated by OD (mainly reform) I did not see anyone being treated unfairly, so, I stuck around.

         Slowly, I began to notice some prejudices creeping out of the woodwork. When anyone one would mention doing anything unpermitted, that person would be pressured to stay nonviolent. If, during a march, someone would cross the street on a red light or walk in the actual road, members of OD not only accused protesters of being provocateurs, but went so far as to point out specific people and scream it through a megaphone.

Shit really hit the fan when OD got the notice – on October13th– that the governor would be sending his thugs in to remove our tents and other belongings if participants didn’t do it themselves. Naturally, the reformist newbies were inclined to stay within the perimeter of the law and remove all of the things we had spent three weeks building. After all, “the police and politicians are our friends and are acting in the best interest of the people”.

The majority of OD’s group on the ground wanted to stay, but a few of the newbie organizers insisted that this would force the police to get violent and to them not following laws was violent (or at least not nonviolent). The point made by myself and a few others there was that there’s nothing violent about civil disobedience. We explained that everyone has a right to be on this land,  that the group calls itself an occupation, and there indeed was a need to stay and fight for OD’s structures. Fear mongers stood up and warned participants who would most certainly face time in prison, huge fines, and have a record that would follow them around for their entire life. A decent number of folks responded by explaining that each person has a choice and that no one would need to stay if they didn’t want to, but that those who chose to stay would know the consequences.

Denver Anarchist Black Cross has been getting fucked with by the police in this town for years and have an established legal team set up. Denver ABC made sure everyone interested in staying had a number to call for legal assistance. Even though they were one of the main groups who felt uncomfortable being in a space with potential snitches, they (and Denver CopWatch) offered their unwavering support to those who wished to stay and face arrest.

There was so much fear mongering and trying to talk those of us willing to stay out of staying, and I believe that because of that, no time was set aside to talk about strategy or anything relevant for that matter. Nothing was done when the police brutally tore down the 60 or so tents that had been put up, but arrestables quickly formed protection circles around the medic tent and the Thunderdome (the kitchen that served up to 400 meals per day, not only to Occupy members, but also to the surrounding homeless community). While this standoff ensued, I saw none of the self-proclaimed OD leaders around, but only Denver ABC and CopWatch. Then, 24 of us were arrested.

          In jail the only number made available to us (meaning the only people who were even prepared enough to have a number) was from Denver ABC’s legal line, so we called. When the arrested showed up (myself included) for court that day, not only was the courtroom packed with supporters, but four lawyers awaited us. On the other side of things, the Occupy Denver website and Facebook page were practically useless, as no one thought it necessary to post updates or even answer my wife and friends as they frantically posted questions as to my whereabouts. When, twelve hours after our arrest, most were finally released, the first (and only) person I saw – as soon as I walked out the doors – was a member of Denver ABC, offering me invaluable support. As of today, the only legal help I have gotten has been from Denver ABC; not one single thing has been done by the members of Occupy Denver.

As far as the people who were left in jail (some people had previous charges, causing the judge to set bail), every penny needed to get the 1st group of participants out (and the 24 people arrested the very next day) was raised by – you guessed it – Denver ABC. Despite all of this, certain members of Occupy Denver refuse to allow Denver ABC onto its legal team or to provide any other kind of critical help. Regardless of their disrespect for Denver ABC, myself and most of the arrestees know who is able to offer the most help, and we will go to them. 

There are mainly three people pushing for the oust of any influential Anarchists (because apparently anarchists are not part of the 99%). One of the most vocal of the Anarchist haters stood up at Sunday’s 3pm general assembly and, after re-stressing her commitment to nonviolence said, “ to all the people in this group who consider themselves anarchists. I was wrong. I judged you and I was completely wrong and I am sorry. I am proud to call you all allies.” While this was mind blowing, it was only one person, and one who is very rarely on site.

Right now, the group is having a standoff with the mayor and governor (who is the former – up until less than a year ago – mayor of Denver), there are around 50 people facing charges, and the occupation is growing immensely with every passing day, yet instead of pulling together there are (at least) two people still insisting that Occupy have nothing to do with Denver ABC or any other anarchist people or groups.

After all of my observations and experiences it feels to me like things are headed either towards total destruction or being divided into two movements. We cannot let this happen. I, repeat, we cannot let this happen. This is what always happens. This is what our opponents want. From things I’ve read by other anarchists in other occupies, it is possible to make people understand a broader concept of nonviolence and diversity of tactics. This was proven by the fact that the older lady who threatened to DOX anarchists three weeks ago was able to change the opinion she had held on to for decades, simply because of a few acts. Although I do not feel like we should have to get on our knees and beg for acceptance, I do think that we can be the people who show up organized, help new comers understand what our minds are open to, how we have come to this place where we question and challenge power structures and furthermore, how to bring others in rather than keep opposing ideas on the outside. In my opinion, this is the only viable solution for the lack of knowledge we are facing. For centuries, anarchists have been made – by the media, the police, and others – to look like a bunch of crazy kids who just want to light shit on fire and smash windows, but we all know that we are much more than this. As soon as that connection is made, we will officially be unstoppable


Tagged , , , ,